“Hebrew, Yiddish, Aramaic, and sometimes Latin:”

in Conversation with Emile Schrijver, Curator of the Braginsky Collection

How does one become a curator of a manuscript collection?

When I was a student—I studied Hebrew in Amsterdam—a lecturer took us to see the University of Leiden’s collection of medieval manuscripts. In the impressive vaults there, I had my first ever opportunity to see really ancient manuscripts: the only manuscript of the Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud), for instance, and one of the earliest Rashi manuscripts. To see these ancient sources, to have first-hand experience of this living history was overwhelming—historical books in general had this effect on me at the time . I subsequently studied a great deal at the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana, the Jewish library at the University of Amsterdam and later even began working there. Then, a few years ago, Mr. Braginsky was looking for a curator for his first exhibition in Europe. Mutual acquaintances from the international world of manuscripts put us in touch with each other and, as it happened, we got along very well and were soon able to establish a good working relationship based on trust.

What exactly do you do as a curator of the Braginsky Collection?

A man sits at a table and holding an open book in his hands

Emile Schrijver and the Harrison Miscellany © and photo: Darko Todorovic, Dornbirn (A)

I am responsible for the collection: for new acquisitions, whenever Mr. Braginsky buys something, as well as for existing stocks. Most new acquisitions are delivered with a short description. Others we describe and photograph ourselves, then add them to our inventory. I carefully examine the condition books are in and commission their restoration, if necessary. I’m also responsible for monitoring the climate in the storerooms. Inquiries concerning exhibitions and reproductions involve a lot of work for us. The process of digitizing our stock is ongoing. Occasionally, scholars wish to view specific works at length. We also organize presentations on our own premises, for example, on behalf of the European Association of Jewish Museums. Public relations for events such as the Jewish Book Week in London in 2013 likewise require a great deal of preparation.

What do you think makes the Braginsky Collection so special?  continue reading


Collecting as a Way of Life

An Interview with René Braginsky

When did you start collecting and how many objects are there now in your collection?

René Braginsky: I started collecting books more than twenty years ago, after being unable to find an illustrated blessing for our son’s Bar Mitzvah celebration. We had to make do with a copy. For his wedding, however, we were able to reproduce a blessing from our own collection. As I slowly acquired a taste for collecting, I gradually bought more things, and of increasingly high quality, too, whenever possible. A good friend of mine, an elderly collector, encouraged me. The Judaica collection now comprises more than 700 pieces: books mainly, but also illustrated wedding contracts and Esther scrolls.

What motivates you to collect Hebrew manuscripts? Do you collect with a specific objective or mission in view?

Interior view of the special exhibition. A few book on blue painted slope wall

Interior view of the special exhibition “The Creation of the World. Illustrated Manuscripts from the Braginsky Collection” © Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Martin Adam

Of interest for me, first and foremost, is the direct connection with Jewish history, with my view of Jewish history. The sheer variety of the illustrations fascinates me, too, and the regional and national influences one can see in them. Jewish books in Germany are primarily German books, just as Jewish books from Spain are primarily Spanish and those from Morocco Moroccan. Jews lived in diverse worlds, in a diaspora, and the illustrations in the books reflect this. And these old books so full of erudition bring me peace and make me confident, too, that whatever is really importantwill always survive. The mission, if there is one at all, is my conviction that one shouldn’t hide such treasures from the world, but rather share them freely. That is why we set up our websites (braginskycollection.com und braginskycollection.ch) , put two iPad apps online (Braginsky Collection und Braginsky Collection Berlin) and chose to exhibit a part of our collection in Berlin, currently for the fifth time around. Over the years, the exhibitions and online sources have enabled many tens of thousands of citizens from all over the world—both Jewish and non-Jewish—to share our enjoyment of the collection.

Do you believe the market for collectors of Judaica and Hebrew manuscripts has changed over the last few decades? Have you come across any counterfeiters or crooked dealers?  continue reading


Jewish Script and Love By Contract

A group of children and a guide in the exhibition

Schoolchildren on a guided tour of the exhibition “The Creation of the World”
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Nadja Rentzsch

“I know!” shouts Tamo* (aged 10): “It’s Jewish writing!” “It’s called Hebrew—Hebrew writing” Mia (aged 10) corrects him. She knows the term because her best friend comes from Israel. She has seen letters like this before, at her friend’s house. Alexander (aged 34) chuckles. He works at the Jewish Museum and is giving a group of primary schoolchildren from Berlin a tour of “The Creation of the World,” our current temporary exhibition. On display are historical manuscripts and artful illustrations.  continue reading